What I’ve Learned About Chronic Pain from Those Who Suffer

It’s not uncommon for family conflict to be exacerbated if one or more of the parties suffer from chronic pain. In my role as pastor/counselor/mediator it’s been my privilege to meet many heroic souls over the years who’ve grappled with migraine, TMJ, chronic fatigue syndrome, IBS, MS, arthritis, back pain, Crohn’s disease, STD, rash, and Fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and more. Here’s what they’ve taught me about pain that won’t go away.

1. It’s lonely. “People tell me I look fine but my body is in constant pain. I feel so alienated.” It’s almost as if those in pain need to look bad before they get sympathy or understanding. Since pain is subjective we do well to believe other’s reports of pain. Ignoring genuine pain seems more risky (and cruel?) than doubting faked pain.

2. It’s suspect. “People think I’m faking, a hypochondriac, or pretending to be in pain just for the drugs.” Are there malingerers? Certainly. Are all sufferers malingerers? Heavens no. Talk about adding insult to injury. Many loved ones have compassion. But many, tragically, do not.

3. It’s misunderstood. “I’ve been told more than once that it’s all in my head.” Such comments are code for, “If you change your thinking you’ll feel better.” If only it was that easy.

4. It’s complex. “I’ve been to twenty specialists and none of them know what’s going on.” This is either the failure of modern science or testament to the vexing complexity of pain’s causes. When pain lingers long after a sport (or horse, auto, work, or fall) injury heals, the blame goes to any number of culprits: tissue damage, bacteria, viruses, bad character, divine curse, the devil, gluten, genetically modified organisms, random cellular mutations, negative thinking, repressed emotions, illusion, or delusion.

5. It’s expensive. “I’ve never been a fan of snake oil but if I thought it’d help I’d drink a gallon of it.” The quest for relief from chronic pain is relentless. Prescriptions, pain specialists, pain clinics, neurologists, naturopaths, psychiatrists and pain management protocols are not cheap.

6. It’s enervating. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I can’t imagine what it’s like to be plagued by constant pain. The wear and tear is immense.

7. It’s emotional. “Not only is my pain throbbing, stabbing, and on fire, my brain won’t shut off–Why me? Where’s God? Is this punishment? Do I deserve this?” At a time like this my handouts on the difference between affliction and infliction, theodicy, and tips on suffering seem paltry at best, platitudinous at worst.

8. It’s embarrassing. “I can’t keep burdening my family and friends with sighing.” When repetitive laments are met with boredom, indifference, or disdain one learns quickly to suffer in silence.

9. It’s a disease. “My chronic pain isn’t a symptom of some underlying malady; it is the malady.” Pain is not merely a symptom of a disease; chronic pain is the disease. Clients describe the things they’ve tried: acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation, colon flushing, diet and exercise, hypnoses, prayer, opiates, yoga, massage, pot, meditation, biofeedback, cognitive reframing, and all manner of anesthesia medicines.

10. It’s chronic. “Acute pain eventually goes away. What I’ve got has hounded me for years.” Like a smoke detector that keeps blaring long after the smoke has cleared, chronic pain keeps blaring long after the damaged tissues heal.


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1 Comment

  1. As someone who has had chronic pain for 24 years, I can wholeheartedly agree with everything you wrote – in fact, I wanted to be the one to write it! Hope this helps more pain-free people understand what it’s like to never get a reprieve from pain. Bless you, Erik!

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